TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona won last season’s Pac-12 South title by reeling off five wins in six games following a bye week.
If the Wildcats are going to repeat this season, they’ll have to do it without the benefit of a midseason break.
Starting with its opener against the University of Texas at San Antonio on Sept. 3, Arizona will play 12 straight games before finally getting a break. That would give the Wildcats a week off before the Pac-12 title game, but they’ll have to survive the nonstop grind to get there.
“Twelve straight games is tough — you’d like to have a break in there — but it’s what we have to deal with,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. “I’m not happy about it, but that’s how it goes.”
The Wildcats aren’t the only team faced with a long stretch of games without a break.
Thanks to a later start to the season and an increasing need to add revenue-generating games, college football teams across the country will have fewer bye weeks this season — some none at all.
Nearly two dozen teams will play at least 10 straight games, including Colorado and Hawaii, which each have 13-game runs without a break. Of the 128 FBS teams, 110 will have one fewer week off this season and overall byes are down to 139 from 261 a year ago, according to fbschedules.com.
Labor Day is later on the calendar this year, on Sept. 7, shrinking the window to schedule games. Football also is the largest revenue producer in college athletics, so schools try to get in as many home games as possible.
“We picked up another game,” said Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre, whose team opens the season Sept. 3 at Hawaii. “We need to create some more revenue, so we get another home game, so it puts money in our budget and everything else as we’re building our program.”
Though McIntyre said he doesn’t like bye weeks, the time off has become an essential part of the season for many coaches.
The week off allows players to heal from the inevitable pains that come from on-field collisions and to unwind from the mental grind of preparing for and playing such a demanding, high-energy sport. The younger players on the roster get extra repetitions in practice and more work with the coaches.
Some coaches like to schedule a bye week in the middle of the season to break it up, others will use it as an extra week of preparation for a rivalry game. It also tends to be a big recruiting week, allowing coaches a chance to evaluate players in person instead of watching them on film.
With no bye or long stretches without a week off, monitoring snaps in practice and games becomes paramount. Coaches are always conscious of players’ workloads, but it becomes a bigger issue when there’s no letup in the schedule.
“What I think you have to do is be very, very careful of the fact that this is a marathon run and how you practice weekly is a big factor in being fresh for the games,” said Nebraska coach Mike Riley, whose team plays 11 straight weeks without a break. “We will fight hard to make sure that we are as fresh as we can be and as prepared as we can be. It’s going to take good balancing.”
Scheduling has become more complex in recent years as teams have gone to 12 and even 13-game schedules. For years, only a handful of teams played the weekend after Thanksgiving Day, but now almost every team does it.
Bigger programs like having as many home games as possible to get the added revenue and smaller programs often accept road games against larger programs for payouts of up to $1 million.
The result this season has put several teams in a don’t-get-a-break grind.
Joining Arizona with 12 straight weeks of games will be Massachusetts, Florida International and North Texas.
Nebraska and Texas Tech are among the teams with 11 straight games, while Penn State and Wisconsin are in the 10-in-a-row group.
North Texas has one of the nation’s quirkier schedules.
The Mean Green begin the season with a bye, so they’ll be at home watching while everyone else is playing after a nine-month wait. Then, after opening the season at Southern Methodist on Sept. 12, North Texas will play 12 straight games after adding a nonconference game at Tennessee on Nov. 12.
“This is the first time I’ve gone 12 in a row; there’s always been a break,” North Texas coach Don McCarney said. “That won’t happen again, but that’s what we’ve got this season and we’ve got to play it out, hopefully find a way to be successful.”
Rodriguez has a similar outlook.
“We didn’t choose 12 in a row,” he said. “But as I said, I’m not going to complain about it after today unless we’re not winning, and then I’m going to complain about it quite a bit.”